It is 7 a.m. on Tuesday. I am staring out the glass door at a white sand backyard, dotted with young coconut trees and surrounded by a crisp new wooden fence. Just beyond are the impossibly blue lagoon waters with their impossibly green mangrove islands. The canopy to all this is an impossibly blue sky. A gentle breeze cavorts through some nearby trees and birds call out to each other.
Did you ever have one of those days when everything went so well that it felt as if you were living in a dream?
Exactly 24-hours earlier, on a black chilly San Francisco morning, Rose and I were in a black town car headed for the airport, chatting in muted voices with our driver Jack who’d driven in from Richmond. I didn’t dare ask him what time he’d gotten up.
We were on our way to meet a 5:55 a.m. American Airlines flight to Dallas, which might or might not have room for us, as we were flying on standby tickets.
And if all went well, in Dallas we would have one hour to meet and board a flight to Belize, which, again, might or might not have seats for us.
And once in Belize, we would have a shot at the four remaining flights for the day — on either Mayan’s or Air Tropic’s 12-seater air taxis — to Ambergris Caye and our new life in San Pedro Town.
Every step of the way held potential for things to go terribly wrong.
But that would be so even with a full-fare ticket. Flights are often overbooked; bad weather just a couple of days earlier forced cancellation of 5,000 US flights; mechanical problems delay flights, a single fender bender on a San Francisco highway can hold up traffic for hours … I won’t go all Woody Allen over this but, yeah, I was concerned.
When we got to SFO it didn’t look good. There were at least 16 people in front of us on the standby list, some with higher priorities that ensured they would board. There we some tense moments as the plane was loaded and our names slowly rose up the priority list.
“Rose Alcantara, Robert Hawkins, report to the desk please,” said the voice on the intercom.
“Oh hell yes!” I thought. “Leg room!”
“No. Exit row?” I said. “That would be fine.”
This scene repeated itself in Dallas where our fight arrived 28 minutes early. Rose and I even had time for a breakfast at the Blue Mesa Grille as Olympic ice dance competition replayed on NBC.
We again got the last two standby seats, which happened to be in an exit row.
In Belize we stepped off the flight into the most delightfully sweet tropical breeze I’d ever experienced. Inside the airport it was different – long lines slowly clearing customs and immigration and a curiously chaotic scene at the Mayan and Tropic ticket counters, jammed with vacationers booking air taxis to Corozal, San Ignacio, Placencia and San Pedro.
My heart sank. No way were we going to get on a flight today.
“Are you looking for a flight? Where to? How many bags? What are your names? Will you be paying cash or credit card?” I numbly answered the young man with the order book in his hand as he made notes.
“Here you just sit and relax,” he said pointing to a wooden bench. “I’ll take care of you.”
And he was gone, into the crowd clamoring for seats on a plane.
He came rushing back, “Do you mind flying Mayan? They have a plane leaving in 10 minutes. Otherwise you might get a plane in an hour or so. Maybe.”
It all happened so fast I never caught his name. Before we knew it we were the last two people – yes, again — on the 15-minute flight to San Pedro.
On the walk across the tarmac to the waiting plane, our small group was halted briefly while the prime minister of Belize, his wife and a small entourage crossed paths en route to a United Airlines plane. The PM and his wife were carrying their own bags.
We hadn’t even had time to contact John and Rose East, our friends who offered us their attached apartment as we look for a place to live. They were going to meet us at Carlos and Ernie’s Runway Bar, right next to the airport.
After storing our bags at Mayan we walked to the open air bar and sure enough, John and Rose were waiting for us. They’d just had a hunch that if all went to plan we’d be arriving between 3:30 and 5 p.m.
All went to plan.
A couple of Belikin beers and some good catching up and we were headed back to Mayan to retrieve our bags. We’d watched the last flight of the day come in as the sun set and we finished our second beers. The offices were closed for the day but the fellow who had taken our bags in was waiting.
“My supervisor told me to close up but I told him you were coming back for your bags. I wasn’t going to leave you without your bags on your first night in San Pedro! I would have waited for you,” he explained in a cheery voice like you would never have heard under similar circumstances in, say, New York.
After that it was all a cheery blur – cab ride to John and Rose’s new home, golf cart ride back to Carlos and Ernie’s for dinner, them home to bed.
And here we are. No dream. Just wonderful people every step of the way.
Today, we’ll look for a pair of bicycles to get around and a long-term rental to live in. If our luck of yesterday holds up, this should be a breeze.
A lovely warm caressing tropical breeze …
Welcome to Belize.